Friday, 3 October 2008

Rothko at the Tate

I've had a day off and been down to London to see the Rothko exhibition at the Tate Modern. Often when I visit the Tate I go to the Rothko Room which contains several large abstract murals featuring dark reds, maroons and blacks.  A space has been created which has a contemplative feel about it.  These works were part of a commission in 1958 for an exclusive restaurant, the Four Seasons, part of the Seagram Building, in New York.  Rothko came to doubt the appropriateness of the setting and withdrew from the commission.  I have to say that I can't imagine them in a restaurant!  And while the restaurant would only have been able to accommodate seven of them, he produced thirty.

In the 60's, the Tate began discussions as to the possibility of displaying a group of them as 'an immersive environment' and selected nine of them for the gallery.  This new exhibition, among other paintings and murals, has united eight of the Tate's Seagram murals with a selection of those from other galleries.  The largest room where these are displayed is stunning and although less intimate than the Rothko Room, still has that contemplative, immersive effect.  

It comes as no surprise - except that it did - that there is a non-denominational Rothko Chapel in Houston, an octagonal building which was constructed with his paintings in mind.  And while none of the particular paintings are displayed, similar works from that period are displayed, known as Black-Form paintings, which are as suggested predominantly black, and hugely impacting.

This latest exhibition focuses on his late works which consist mostly of vast canvases of simple solid fields of colour, often very dark, but made up of layers of thinly applied colour which create a luminosity or fluorescence.  Gazing at these works is akin to contemplation - you're drawn in, immersed in the colour and a sense of depth.  And there is a definite emotional dimension to engaging with them.  The word 'spirituality' seems never far from any comment on Rothko's paintings.  

It was an excellent experience and in the words of Rothko, 'If it's worth doing once, it's worth doing again.'

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